By KASEY McDONNELL.

In February 2016, Welcome to Night Vale’s cult following in NZ is in for a treat.

Welcome to Night Vale, made by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, is set in the fictional town of Night Vale, where things like giant, mind-controlling glow clouds and five-headed dragons running for city mayor are possible. The podcast follows the deathly and supernatural goings-on of the town each episode, through the voice of Cecil, the radio presenter at Night Vale Community Radio.

As well as having a bi-weekly podcast, the creators of Night Vale tour the world with live performances of Night Vale stories. Understandably, New Zealand fans are hyped to experience the iconic live performance on February 6th – and the creators are too.

Both Joseph and Jeffrey have backgrounds as playwrights, and the cast share some stage experience, so for the creators of Night Vale, the idea of live shows “sort of came naturally”.

“We have been wanting to get down to Australia and New Zealand for quite some time. It’s a wild adventure trying to find the people to bring you [to New Zealand]. We’ve just all wanted to go there for so long and we have listeners there, so that was the number one thing. If we can do a show in a great town, why wouldn’t you do that?”

What makes Jeffrey excited about doing live shows, even though he has done over 150 across the US, Canada and Europe with Night Vale, is the response from the fans that come along. For him and the cast, the fans make all of the travel and hard work worth it.

“The thing that makes live theatre so special is the idea of being in the room with your audience, which is something that with a podcast you just don’t get. When you are live, in front of people and in the same room as them, and you can make eye contact when you’re telling them a story, it’s really phenomenal to see and hear and feel the impact that the storytelling has on your fans.”

The format of a live show is very different than a podcast, though. Even if the plot structure is the same, writing a Night Vale story for the stage requires different considerations than a podcast would.

“In some ways you can be similar in your tone and the way you tell your story, but in a lot of ways it’s a different medium, so people consume it differently and you want to write for that [difference],” Jeffrey explains.

“We write in a way that tries to build up moments… whether we’re trying to be scary or funny, or whether we’re trying to do self-referential, we’re all in the same room and doing that show together.”

Welcome to Night Vale is unique because it translates well into different presentations like live shows and books, but podcasting is its dominant format. That comes out of a love for podcasts – but also for other reasons, says Jeffrey.

“It was mostly that we love podcasts so much. It’s exciting and it’s such a fun medium, with a really wonderful way of telling stories. I think we really wanted to try something new in a new medium, and the structure of a radio show in a weird American town made total sense.”

Growing up with community radio was a bit of an inspiration for the storytelling that Jeffrey and Joseph wanted to pay homage to.

“Especially with the US and in the UK, we get asked if we get a lot of influence from radio dramas, but we didn’t really. I never grew up listening to radio dramas, more listening to community radio. They have updates on local football scores and things like that. That structure kind of got ingrained in my head, growing up with community radio in my home town.”

As for the loosely connected serial of episodes;

“I’ve always loved that idea of short episodes that are sort of connected thematically but don’t necessarily build a plot from one to the next, but rather just a bunch of stuff in a universe that you can partake in. Short story mythologies like Raven Carver is a really great example of that: having a series of stories that may not be building one upon the next, but they are all set in the same world.”

Writing characters without them having to be physically possible can provide a lot of funny opportunities when writing Night Vale episodes. Jeffrey explains that even though some characters can be out of the realm of reality, their motivations and drives are the same as characters for more realistic fiction.

“Hiram [a literal five-headed dragon] was this invention where it was just funny to think there was an 18-foot tall, 5-headed dragon driving around in a compact pick-up truck with a fake ID that says he’s a 5’8″ human man… in podcasting where it’s no visuals, it forces the listener to have to imagine something that is physically impossible.”

Some characters, like Hiram, are recurring characters; with that comes certain responsibilities for developing their characters.

“If you go back to a character you have the responsibility to develop the character. You have the responsibility to not just keep playing the same joke with them, you want them to grow up, to have agency and wants and needs and opinions about the world… There’s still development with what Hiram wants and what he’s going to do to get it and we can all form our opinion on whether we like him or not. With podcasting and this ongoing serial, we can always leave a story for a while and come back to it later.”

Working in a diverse community of story-driven podcasts, Jeffrey admires a lot of the podcasts springing up online.

“More than anything I’m excited to see the influx of all these new podcasts with people playing with stuff… We just completed a book tour and every time somebody asked us ‘what’s your favourite podcast’ we would talk for the next half hour about all of our favourite podcasts.”

Even though it wasn’t the creators’ intention, Night Vale has been influential in inspiring more fiction podcasts to arrive.

“There’s this new podcast which started this year called the Black Tapes Podcast,” Jeffrey explains.

“It’s a cool, horror sci-fi genre fiction podcast made by a couple of guys up in Canada. They’re really wonderful. We’ve talked to them on Twitter and told them how we love their show and they said ‘Thank you, you guys are really influential in making a fiction podcast’. That really feels good because [when] we made Night Vale other people thought ‘Woah, we can make fiction podcasting’. I think that’s great.”

“I’m hoping that Night Vale equally feels like it’s doing something new to people and makes people want to go out and write stories and put them out as a podcast.”

In the end, Night Vale is just a story that Jeffrey and Joseph would want to listen to.

“We mostly wrote the show we wanted to listen to and we’re still writing the show we’d want to listen to. I’m really happy that the people that like and follow us are people that we also like back. I think in a lot of ways you don’t get to choose who your fandom is.”

“We’ve never taken a marketing demographic approach to writing things; that seems sort of epithetical to making good art. We just stick with the idea that we want to make a thing we like and we have these wonderful people come to our shows from all over the world, who seem to like it. They’re all delightful people, and so that’s worked really well.”

The live Welcome to Night Vale show will be at SkyCity in Auckland on February 6th, and it’s sold out! If you missed a ticket, check out the podcast here.

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